You all know Carthel.
You all know Hawkins.
Some of you might not know Eddie Vowell, but you will now.
Coach Vowell was the man who had the last run of serious success in Commerce, America before Colby Carthel came to town. The Stafford, Oklahoma native joined the Lions staff in the early 1980’s as an assistant and defensive coordinator. After the retirement of Coach Ernest Hawkins in 1985, Vowell had a tall order. He had to face injuries, replace a starting quarterback, and also had back to back 2-9 seasons in 86 and ’87.
Then, in 1988, Vowell got the Lions roaring back to National prominence again. From 1988-1996 he recorded a 63-38-1 record with a Lone Star Conference title in 1990, 6 seasons of 7 wins or more, 4 Second Place finishes, 3 NCAA Division II National Playoff Appearances, and two finishes in NCAA National Quarterfinals. The Lions were ranked for at least 2 weeks in every season during that time frame an finished ranked in the NCAA top 20 at the end of the 1988, 1990, 1991, 1992, 1995, and 1996 seasons. His 73 career wins is second place all time for most wins in program history, behind his predecessor, the great Ernest Hawkins.
Here at the Lion Wire, we gathered information and votes for the top ten victories in the Eddie Vowell era.
10. September 24, 1994-Turpin Stadium, Natchiotoches, Louisiana.
East Texas State Lions-28, Northwestern Louisiana State-24-
In front of 10,000 fans on the NWLS Homecoming, the passing tandem of Cole Cayce and Chandler Evans went to work to grind out a close and stunning win over a Division I school by defeating Northwestern Louisiana State 28-24. This was not the first time the Lions had come close to beating Demons on the road. They played them within 7 and 3 points in 1990 and 1991. It was only a matter of time before Vowell’s Lions would nip the Demons, and they did so on a swelteringly humid Louisiana night in 1994.
9. October 24, 1998-Memorial Stadium, Commerce, Texas
East Texas State Lions-24, # 12 Eastern New Mexico Greyhounds-16
In front of a sizable Memorial Stadium crowd, Coach Eddie Vowell picked up win number 73 for his career as the Lions shocked a ranked and undefeated Eastern New Mexico squad. The Lions had a rough year in 1998, but Vowell picked up the final win of his career in his next to last home game. That loss was a devastating blow for the Hounds, who looked almost unbeatable to that point. It was one of the best teams coached by Harold “Bud” Elliott, the great Eastern New Mexico Coach who brought the ground and pound mentality to Portales, NM.
8. October 15, 1988-Kimbrough Memorial Stadium, Canyon, Texas
# 5 East Texas State Lions-41, West Texas State Buffalos-37
The 1988 ETSU Lions had come a long way from back to back 2-9 seasons to reach a 5-1 record, undefeated in NCAA Division II play and LSC play. They had to face a familiar foe, and a familiar face who would be playing quarterback for them. The Lions took on West Texas State on a gentle fall day in the Texas Panhandle with former Lion QB Royce Slechta calling the signals for the Buffalo offense. The start was a disaster as the Lions found themselves down 30-6 at the half. The Lions roared back to out score the Buffs 35-7 in the second half to escape with a 41-37 win. That win propelled the Lions to the number 2 ranking they held for 2 weeks in 1988, and no Lion team would ever climb that high in the poll until September of 2017.
7. November 4, 1995, San Angelo Stadium, San Angelo Texas
# 14 East Texas Lions-24, # 7 Angelo State Rams-21
Headed into their road finale, the mission was clear for the 1995 Lions. Beat Angelo State on the road and clinch a playoff spot. Lose, and stay at home. The Lions had only lost to Texas A&I and a ranked Central Arkansas team, but another loss would to a Division II school would doom their season. In a gritty and tough affair, The Lion offense led by Cole Cayce, Chandler Evans, Greg Watson, and 1,000 yard rusher Jason Smith knocked off a higher ranked Angelo State team, virtually assuring them a spot in the Division II playoffs. The defense, led by future NFL starter Kevin Mathis and standouts such as Brett Bertrand, Travis Marshall, and Chris Taylor held the powerful Ram offense to one of it’s lowest outputs of the year. It was a signature win for the Lions of the 1990’s and one of the grittiest.
6. September 19, 1992, Memorial Stadium, Commerce, Texas
East Texas State Lions-31, Southern Arkansas Muleriders-16
After returning home from a matchup with Pittsburg State that saw gorilla mascots stealing Coach Mark Copeland’s defensive clipboard and fans pelting Lion players with foreign objects, the Lions needed a serious pick me up for more than one reason. Their loss to PSU dropped them from the Top 20, but nothing a win against a solid Southern Arkansas squad could not help. With The Dallas Morning News in attendance to run a special on the Lion program for SportsDay, it was Paris native Michael Hightower’s day to shine as he ran for 151 yards and could not be stopped all day long. The win was an important one, as the Muleriders had beaten both the 1990 and 1991 Lions, and it was the win needed to put the Lions back into the polls, where they would stay for the rest of the 1992 season.
5. November 17, 1990, Lubbers Stadium, Allendale, Michigan
# 7 East Texas State Lions-20, # 6 Grand Valley State Lakers-14
It had been a decade since the Lions of ET were beaded into the postseason, and it was the first time in program history that they would be playing in an NCAA postseason event, as ET had joined the NCAA in 1982. After completing a 9-2 regular season, the Lions headed up to the Great Lakes to take on Grand Valley State. After an early GV score, The Lions responded with a Gary Perry 4 yard run to take a 7-6 lead. Billy Watkins tacked on a 42 yard field goal to put the Lions up 10-6 headed into the locker room. With 5:42 left in the third, Bob Bounds hit his main target, the great Gary Compton for a 35 yard touchdown pass to stretch the Lion lead 17-6. Grand Valley responded with 9:09 left in the game with a touchdown and a two point conversion to pull within 3, but Billy Watkins put the final nail in the coffin with a 35 yard field goal with just over 4 minutes to go as the Lions won their first postseason game in a decade and their first as a member of the NCAA, and their first under Vowell.
4. October 12, 1991, Javelina Stadium, Kingsville, Texas
# 20 East Texas State Lions-24, # 12 Texas A&I Javelinas-22
After a 3-2 start that saw them dangling at the bottom of the top 20, the Lions headed to Kingsville to take on the Javelinas of A&I, ranked 12th and a 4-1 record. The Javs had been picked to win the LSC, but the night the Lions came to town changed that. A&I got on the board first, but Mike Meador came in for Bob Bounds and led a drive that started on his own 33. He launched a 62 yard pass to Brian Harp, and Gary Perry took the ball in on a 5 yard plunge to tie the game. The Hoggies got back into control of the game via 2 Lion turnovers to stretch the lead to 16-7. That was short lived as Meador drove the Lions down the field, and Billy Watkins split the uprights from 45 yards out to pull the Lions within 6 headed into the half. Bob Bounds came back in at quarterback and led the Lions on a drive that ended by calling his own number from 6 yards out to take the lead 17-16. The Lions finished off their scoring and the Javelinas when Bounds hooked up with Billy Minor from 16 yards out to push the score to 24-16. The Lions fumbled on their own 30 that led to A&I scoring, but they failed to convert and the Lions left Kingsville as victors for the first time since 1982. It vaulted the Lions firmly back into the top 20, where they stayed the rest of the season.
3. October 8, 1988-Memorial Stadium, Commerce, Texas
# 9 East Texas State Lions-42, # 5 Texas A&I Javelinas-35
This was the game that resurrected Lion football. The Lions of ET were ranked in the top ten for the first time since 1983, but faced a tall order with the Javelinas of A&I coming to town. They were led by defending Harlon Hill winner Johnny Bailey and were on fire as the season started. In a game that was where offense won the day, Mike Trigg and company kept firing away and would not relent as the Lions took down the Hoggies, snapping a 4 game losing streak to their South Texas rivals. The Lions also added a some option plays that caught A&I completely off guard and no doubt had a hand in the Lions pulling off their first win over a top ten in the Vowell era.
2. November 23, 1991-Memorial Stadium, Commerce, Texas
# 19 East Texas State Lions-36, # 9 Grand Valley State Lakers-15
For the first time since the 1957-1958 seasons, the Lions found themselves in back to back postseason appearances. It was also the first NCAA contest ever played on the ETSU campus. Coach Brian Kelly (of Notre Dame fame) was coaching the Laker os Grand Valley for another first round showdown, but it was Eddie Vowell’s squad day as the Lions ran out to a 31-7 lead en route to a 36-15 win. Gary Perry ran for two touchdowns while Bob Bounds ran for another and Mike Meador threw a 48 yard TD pass as the Lions defense, led by Curtis Buckley and Derrick Crawford made huge plays to demoralize the Lakers and send the Lions back to the NCAA National Quarterfinals.
1. September 14, 1991-Memorial Stadium, Commerce, Texas
# 7 East Texas State Lions-20, # 2 Pittsburg State Gorillas-13
In front of almost 9,000 fans in Commerce, the biggest win Vowell’s tenure and perhaps one of the biggest ones in Lion history happened. Pittsburg State, riding a 56 game regular season winning streak and defending national semifinalists came to Commerce for one of the wildest and most intense games to ever be played at Memorial. The scoring started after a Billy Minor touchdown was called back due to clipping penalty, when Gary Perry plunged in from 4 yards. Things got worse for the Gorillas and better for the Lions when Curtis Buckley put Pitt State QB Brian Hutchins out for 5 games with a smashing hit that broke the QB’s collar bone. The Gorillas had to turn to a Freshman QB to finish the job. Jeff Moreland led the Gorillas down 75 yards to knot the score at 7 per team. Bob Bounds engineered a Lion drive that got deep into PSU territory when he connected with Anthony Brooks on a 40 yard rope to the sideline. David Chapman got the call as the Lion fullback rumbled 25 yards into the end zone to give the Lions back the lead. Billy Watkins put through a 45 yard field goal with just over 9 to go in the third to extend the Lion lead 17-7. PSU responded as Moreland tossed a 44 yard bomb to Ronnie West to cut the lead to 3. Watkins then hit a career long 51 yard field goal to end the scoring at 20-13. The Gorillas got the ball back one last time. Starting at their own 27 yard line, PSU got down to the Lion 6 yards line. With under 30 seconds to go and no timeouts, Lion defenders Jimmy Hooker and Eric Turner stopped Moreland at the 1 yard line. Bounds came out and ran the clock out and the Lion offense ran up 402 total yards and avenged their quarterfinal loss from the year before.